Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer for so many. Kids are out of school, the weather is nicer to be outside more and so many take some time off of work to relax, travel and to just enjoy life. But for some the summer months can bring anxiety, depression, uneasiness and even trigger some not so great things. There can be a sense of being overwhelmed and feeling of uncertainty during this time rather than having a carefree mindset. Being aware of your mental health and making sure you’re taking care of you first is important. And with May being Mental Health Awareness month, it’s a perfect time to make sure you find time to check in on you.
The purpose of Mental Health Awareness Month is to raise awareness and educate everyone about the many different types of mental illnesses. There is so much information out there to educate yourself about the different types as well as ways on how to cope, get support for yourself and even ways to help support another you may know who is living with one of these diagnoses - depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety are to name a few. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in five people in the U.S. (52.9 million in 2020) are living with a mental illness. Along with the different conditions, they also vary in degree of severity from mild to moderate to severe. Also during this month, different organizations strive to reduce the stigma that surround mental illnesses in hopes to also reduce the number of suicides as well.
But back to YOU. For real though, how are you doing? I am sure you have checked in on your friends, family, kids and co-workers lately on how they are, but when was the last time you really checked in on you? This is a great habit to get into if you haven’t done so before. Asking yourself some basic questions each day can be a helpful way in finding out how you are mentally doing. It might feel weird at first, but I promise you it will pay off and you will notice a huge difference in many aspects of your life.
This may seem like a no brainer, but when you ask yourself this question you’re also forcing yourself to pause and think about an honest response. More specifically, do you notice an increased feeling of stress, anxiety, worry, sadness, or any other hard hitting emotions? Use a scale from 1 to 10 and either write down or take a mental note of your numbers at the same time each day. When you see that number decrease in certain areas of your life, that’s when you need to dive further into the things you can do to increase that number.
Along with this question, it is important to notice how you are feeling physically as well. You may not “feel” it mentally, but look at these different physical ways mental health concerns can show up:
Stress: Headaches, body pains, skin rashes, or worsening of chronic health issues you already have.
Anxiety: Headaches, stomachaches, muscle tension, or frequent urination.
Depression: Appetite changes, weight loss or gain, loss of energy, and unexplained aches and pains.
Take a moment to dive deeper and think specifically about what’s been weighing on you the most recently. Could it be money, relationships, work, or other outside stressors? This is a great time to write these thoughts and triggers down, then come up with ways to develop healthier responses to each. For example, if it’s a situation at work that is really getting to you, take a 10-minute breather or establish clear boundaries that take care of you.
Life gets so busy that we forget to focus on the basics that make our bodies run efficiently - food, exercise and sleep. These are simple things but we don’t always check how we are really treating our bodies and what we are putting into them.
- Make sure you are getting an adequate amount of sleep each night (7-9 hours)
- Eat nutrient dense meals that are full of veggies, healthy proteins, healthy fats, and some fruits and drinking enough water (at least half your body weight in ounces)
- Get your body moving at least once a day, whether it’s even just a brisk 30-minute walk outside or a planned workout (need some ideas? Check out my previous blog Move Your Body!)
Not caring for your body can be a big red flag and sign that you may have a mental health concern. Having trouble sleeping can be a sign of anxiety or depression. If you’re hungry or not eating enough at all, that could be a sign of stress.
With so many things on our to-do lists each day, make sure you are taking the time to write down some R&R time for yourself. Find even the littlest things that bring you joy and truly make you happy, schedule that time for yourself and stick to it! Whether it’s reading a book, spending time with people who make you laugh, playing with your kids, or finding a new restaurant to eat at - the end goal is to do something small each day that brings you true happiness and helps you forget about your everyday stressors.
Having a solid support system is essential to your mental health! Think about and even write down a list of people who you consider trustworthy and loving to whom you can turn to when you need it the most. These people can be family, close friends or even co-workers. They are ones who give you good advice, respect you and are trustworthy, allow you to make your own decisions and mistakes but are there to support you no matter what, who actually listen and who truly have your best interests at heart.
If you don’t have close people in your life, reach out to support groups in your community as you are not alone! There are so many in our community that are free even! Check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness site for more information.
While writing your list, also take note to those who are not rooting for you. It’s okay to cut ties in a healthy way if a relationship is no longer serving you and your life. We have too short of a time on this earth for negative people and energy.
There are so many great resources out there, so as always do your own research and find what works best for you. But if these things do not work for you or you feel even more so down than you think you should, don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor for support. We need all the help we can get sometimes in life and just need to ask for help. So don’t let summer give you negative thoughts or feelings. Take care of yourself, check in and go into this summer with a healthier mindset than ever before. You deserve happiness!